Eagles Play at Two-Time Defending Champions
Nov. 26, 2007
Everybody knows about Appalachian State.
But watching and studying the two-time defending national champions and slayer of mighty Michigan is another matter. That's the task at hand for the Eastern Washington University football coaches and players this week in preparation for EWU's quarterfinal match-up Saturday (Dec. 1) versus ASU in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
Kickoff between the 9-3 Eagles and 10-2 Mountaineers is 9:05 a.m. Pacific time at Kidd Brewer Stadium. It will be first-ever meeting between the two schools and EWU's inaugural game against a member of the powerful Southern Conference.
The game will be televised in the Spokane/Cheney area on KAYU TV, and is also aired by Altitude Sports and Entertainment (DirectTV 644, Dish Network 410). It is being produced by ESPN Gameplan. The broadcast on the Eagle Radio Network will begin at 8 a.m. Pacific time, including KJRB 790-AM in Spokane.
The EWU Alumni Association has organized a watch party at Winger's in the Spokane Valley (14742 E. Indiana Ave.). Cost is $7 ($5 for children 12-and-under). To register, fans can call 509-359-4550 or go to the alumni website at www.ewu.edu/alumni by 5 p.m. on Thursday (Nov. 29).
Eastern advanced in the playoffs with a convincing 44-15 win at previously unbeaten and second-seeded McNeese State. The 14th-ranked Eagles doubled the offensive output of the third-ranked Cowboys as EWU finished with 626 yards -- sixth best in school history -- while holding MSU to 312.
The Mountaineers scored with just over a minute to play to defeat James Madison 28-27 in their first-round game. Ranked fifth in FCS, Appalachian State upset Michigan 34-32 to open the season.
The Mountaineers defeated Northern Arizona 34-21 on Sept. 15, just two weeks after knocking off the Wolverines. Eastern blasted NAU 52-24 on Nov. 10 as part of EWU's current five-game winning streak.
"We're familiar with them a little bit," said Wulff. "We've never really watched them or studied them because we've never had to play them. Obviously, they are a great football team but they have lost this season. We are just going to line up and play. It's all about what we do. If we take care of our own business we'll be fine."
Appalachian State suffered league losses to eventual champion Wofford (42-31) and Georgia Southern (38-35), but the Mountaineers have won their last five outings. Eastern fell to Portland State (28-21), Montana (24-23) and Brigham Young (42-7). Wofford handed Montana its first loss of the season last week in another first- round playoff game.
"They are a good team -- we're going to prepare for them, try to play another good ballgame and see what happens," said Eastern senior safety Bryan Jarrett. "Our team has the capability to run the table, we really do. We'll have to prepare, take care of our bodies and get after it again on Saturday."
Eastern's offense has been potent all season behind the arm of sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols, who was selected as the Big Sky's Offensive Player of the Year. Against McNeese State, Nichols tied and then broke the school record for touchdown passes in a single season with 32. As a freshman, he tied the school record for interceptions with 17.
Nichols knows that this week's game will be EWU's stiffest test of the season.
"If you want to be the best you have to beat the best," said Nichols. "We're happy to draw Appalachian State in the second round. We feel like we can beat anybody right now because we are playing the best football we have played this season. We're ready to go and play a really quality team."
Nichols completed 34-of-44 passes for 434 yards -- sixth-best in school history -- and two touchdowns in the win over McNeese State. It was the sixth 300-yard passing performance in his career, including his fifth this season.
In his last three games alone, Nichols has averaged 394 yards of total offense per game with 11 touchdown passes and a 180.4 passing efficiency rating. For the season, Nichols has completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,559 yards, 32 touchdowns, just eight interceptions and a passing efficiency rating of 162.0 to rank sixth in that category this week in FCS.
The Eagles are averaging 470.2 yards of offense per game (fourth in FCS), including 304.8 passing (fifth) and 165.4 rushing (53rd).
The Mountaineers feature a Payton Award candidate on offense (senior running back Kevin Richardson) and a Buck Buchanan candidate on defense (senior safety Corey Lynch). Richardson has rushed for 1,085 yards and 13 touchdowns, and has caught 31 passes for 317 yards and three more scores. Sophomore quarterback Armanti Edwards has rushed for 1,060 yards and 16 touchdowns and has passed for 1,347 yards and nine touchdowns while completing 65 percent of his passes for a passing efficiency rating of 141.3.
Lynch has 93 tackles, four interceptions, seven passes broken up, a forced fumble and two blocked kicks, including one to seal the victory over Michigan. Linebacker Jacque Roman has a team-high 107 tackles.
The Mountaineers are right behind Eastern in total offense nationally, averaging 468.6 yards to rank fifth. Appalachian State is fifth in FCS in rushing offense (267.5) and third in scoring (41.6). Its defense will provide a stiff challenge for EWU's passing offense as the Mountaineers rank 24th in FCS in pass efficiency defense (111.3) with 14 interceptions.
Likewise, the Eagles hope to be a challenge for ASU's rushing offense. Eastern is 19th in rushing defense in FCS, allowing an average of 130.4 yards per game.
EWU Playoff Tidbits: This is EWU's sixth playoff appearance and third in the last four seasons under Wulff. Only 10 teams out of the 116 schools currently in FCS have played in three of the last four tournaments.
This is Eastern's fourth time advancing to the second round, but only once has Eastern won a quarterfinal game. In 1997, Eastern beat Western Kentucky 38-21 before bowing out of the playoffs with a loss to eventual champion Youngstown State in the semifinals.
Last year, Eastern was 3-8 overall and 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference to finish in a tie for sixth, but this season Eastern improved to 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the league for a second-place finish.
Eastern earned one of eight at-large playoff berths after winning its last four games overall and last five league games. The only loss for the Eagles in their last seven outings was a 42-7 setback on Oct. 20 at 9-2 Brigham Young, ranked 21st in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in this week's Associated Press poll.
A regular season-ending 38-16 win over Weber State was EWU's fifth-straight Big Sky victory, a feat it accomplished in 1997 when the Eagles won their last five league games en route to a 12-2 finish and semifinal appearance in the FCS Playoffs. Even in EWU's playoff years in 1992, 2004 and 2005, Eastern was not able to win four-straight league games. The Eagles closed the regular season with a four-game winning streak after losing at Brigham Young on Oct. 20.
Eastern Repeats History: In the process of beating McNeese State, Eastern repeated a bit of history.
In 2004, in the first of what is now three playoff berths in the last four seasons for the Eagles under Wulff, Eastern drew No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois. The Eagles went on to defeat the Salukis 35-31 before falling at home in the quarterfinals to Sam Houston State.
In both upset victories, Eastern entered the game ranked just 14th nationally.
Eastern also avoided a bit of history in the win over the Cowboys. Eastern held a 22-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but based on the last two EWU playoff games, that wasn't necessarily a good omen.
In the loss to Sam Houston State, Eastern led 34-14 with 14:54 left before falling 35-34. The next year, in a first round game at Northern Iowa, the Eagles led 38-24 with 11:03 remaining but lost 41-38.
This time, Eastern held McNeese State scoreless the final 24:12 of the game and scored its final touchdown in the fourth quarter on an 80-yard drive that took more than six minutes off the clock. This time, Eastern held McNeese State scoreless the final 24:12 of the game and the Eagles scored their final touchdown in the fourth quarter on an 80-yard drive that took more than six minutes off the clock. That clinching score followed an interception by senior Bryan Jarrett, who redshirted at EWU in 2004 and played in the disappointing loss the following season at Northern Iowa.
Eastern's 626 yards to total offense against McNeese State was the most for the Eagles in 10 years against a FCS opponent, and the most in five years overall. At one point, Eastern scored on five-straight offensive possessions behind an offensive line that features four senior starters. The defense, with four senior starters, forced three turnovers as EWU won the turnover battle 3-2 against a team that ranked fourth nationally with a plus 1.64 margin per game (plus 18 overall). Eastern's defense was right behind at 10th nationally (1.27 per game, plus 14 overall). Eastern held McNeese State to just 312 yards of offense.
It's App-a-LATCH-n: The Eastern-McNeese State game wasn't even over when the first e-mail came in from an easterner correcting a westerner with the proper pronunciation of "Appalachian." It's "App-a-LATCH-n" the e-mail pointed out.
Bracketology: Apparently, Eastern's upset over McNeese State was too much for the NCAA to believe. For a short time after EWU's 44-15 win, a bracket on the NCAA's web site mistakenly listed the Cowboys as the winner.
Well-Wishes from the NFL: During EWU's 44-15 win over McNeese State, Eastern received a well-wishes via text messaging from a pair of former Eagles now in the NFL. Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Michael Roos listened to the radio broadcast via internet in Cincinnati where he was preparing to play the Bengals and said he "just wanted to wish EWU good luck the rest of the game." Former Eastern assistant coach Keith Murphy, now an assistant coach with the St. Louis Rams, texted his "congrats" while the Eagles were safely ahead.
Lots of Towels Needed: After an afternoon deluge of rain Saturday in Lake Charles, La., Cowboy Stadium was a soggy mess for the game that evening between the Eagles and Cowboys. EWU received towels from the host team, but it wasn't nearly enough. So EWU was forced to head to a nearby Wal-Mart to buy $300 worth of towels. Eastern administrator Kris Okimoto said they not only got out of the store with a large amount of towels but received "a lot of strange looks too."
Playoff Results and Pairings (Times Pacific)
#1 Northern Iowa (12-0, top-seeded) 38, #17 New Hampshire (7-5) 35
#13 Delaware (9-3) 44, Delaware State (10-2) 7
#4 Southern Illinois (11-1, fourth-seeded) 30, #18 Eastern Illinois (8-4) 11
#7 Massachusetts (10-2) 49, #25 Fordham (8-4) 35
#14 Eastern Washington (9-3) 44, #3 McNeese State (11-0, second-seeded) 15
#5 Appalachian State (10-2) 28, #12 James Madison (8-4) 27
#11 Wofford (9-3) 23, #2 Montana (11-1, third-seeded) 22
#6 Richmond (10-2) 31, #9 Eastern Kentucky (9-3) 14
Saturday, Dec. 1 (at campus sites)
Quarterfinal Game 1 - #13 Delaware (9-3) at #1 Northern Iowa (12-0), 11 a.m.
Quarterfinal Game 2 - #7 Massachusetts (10-2) at #4 Southern Illinois (11-1), 12:30 p.m.
Quarterfinal Game 3 - #14 Eastern Washington (9-3) at #5 Appalachian State (10-2) in Boone, N.C., 9 a.m.
Quarterfinal Game 4 - #6 Richmond (10-2) at #11 Wofford (9-3), 4 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 7 & 8 (at campus sites TBA)
Semifinal Game 1 - Winners of Quarterfinal Games 1 & 2
Semifinal Game 2 - Winners of Quarterfinal Games 3 & 4
Friday, Dec. 14 (Chattanooga, Tenn.)
Championship Game, 5 p.m. on ESPN2HD
Eagles in the Playoffs: Eastern's 2007 appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs is the school's sixth berth in school history. It is also the third in the last four years as EWU's appearances in 2004 and 2005 were the first time the Eagles had ever made back-to-back appearances.
Eastern has now advanced past the first round three times (1985, 2004, 2007) and has a 5-5 record in six playoff appearances. In 2004, Eastern defeated No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois 35-31 in the first round and then lost 35-34 to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinal round in EWU's first-ever playoff game at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
Until 2004, Eastern hadn't appeared in the FCS playoffs since 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals where it lost to Youngstown State 25-14 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. Eastern played two early-round games at Albi, defeating Northwestern State 40-10 and Western Kentucky 38-21.
Eastern also participated in the playoffs in 1985 (won at Idaho 42-38 and lost at Northern Iowa 17-14) and 1992 (lost at Northern Iowa 17-14). The school's only other post-season experience came in 1967 when Eastern advanced to the NAIA Championship game where it lost to Fairmont State 28-21.
Here is a complete list of EWU's playoff games:
2007 - at McNeese State - W, 44-15 (First Round)
2005 - at Northern Iowa - L, 38-41 (First Round)
2004 - Sam Houston State - L, 34-35 (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
2004 - at Southern Illinois - W, 35-31 (First Round)
1997 - Youngstown State - L, 14-25 (Semifinals/Spokane)
1997 - Western Kentucky - W, 38-21 (Quarterfinals/Spokane)
1997 - Northwestern State - W, 40-10 (First Round/Spokane)
1992 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (First Round)
1985 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (Quarterfinals)
1985 - at Idaho - W, 42-38 (First Round)
EWU East of the Mississippi: Eastern has never played a team from the Southern Conference, and, in fact, this is just the fifth time Eastern has played a game East of the Mississippi.
The most recent came on Sept. 9, 2006, when Eastern lost 52-3 at West Virginia, which was ranked sixth at the time in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision. That game marked the starting debut for current Eastern quarterback Matt Nichols.
The others were at Eastern Illinois in 1991 (a 30-12 loss) and at Connecticut to open the 2001 season (a 35-17 victory). The game against UConn came during the second year the Huskies were members of FBS, and the meeting came four seasons before they joined the Big East Conference in 2005.
Eastern also played in Morgantown, W.Va., at Mountaineer Stadium in the NAIA Championship Game in 1967, where it lost 28-21 to Fairmont State. Eastern was actually known as the Eastern Washington State College Savages at the time.
Eagles Rise One Spot to 14th in Final Regular Season Poll: Eastern moved up one more spot to a season-high 14th as the Eagles are ranked for the seventh time this season in The Sports Network NCAA Football Championships Subdivision top 25 poll of sportswriters, broadcasters and sports information directors. The poll released on Nov. 19 was the final poll of the season until the national championship game has concluded.
In the three previous weeks, Eastern has also followed victories with national rankings -- 24th after defeating Sacramento State 38-30, 20th after edging Northern Colorado 17-7 and 15th after routing Northern Arizona 52-24. Eastern ended the regular season with a 38-16 win over Weber State.
Before its current run of four-straight weeks in the rankings, the previous two times EWU was ranked it suffered defeats. A 35-13 victory over 11th-ranked Montana State on Oct. 13 put the Eagles back into The Sports Network rankings at No. 22. But a 42-7 loss to Brigham Young on Oct. 20 knocked the Eagles back out of the rankings.
Before that, Eastern's convincing 34-7 victory over Idaho State on Sept. 22 helped Eastern move up four spots to 21st, but the Eagles dropped out after losing to Portland State 28-21 on Sept. 29. When EWU was ranked 25th on Sept. 17, the Eagles earned their first national ranking since 2005 in the TSN poll. Eastern hadn't been nationally ranked since it finished the 2005 season 13th in the TSN poll.
In the Sagarin computer ratings released after EWU's win at Idaho State, Eastern was No. 6 among FCS schools to rank three spots ahead of No. 9 Montana. Following the PSU loss, Eastern fell to 19th in the Sagarin ratings and have fallen to a current ranking of 24th as the rest of the Big Sky falls as well. Montana is unbeaten but is only ranked 13th.
Here is a listing of EWU's 2007 opponents in this week's FCS rankings (four polls are distributed nationally on a weekly basis), in addition to the Sagarin computer ratings:
The Sports Network: 1. Northern Iowa; 2. Montana; 5. Appalachian State; 14. Eastern Washington.
FCS Coaches: 1. Northern Iowa; 3. Montana; 6. Appalachian State; 14. Eastern Washington; 42. Montana State; 43. Northern Arizona.
AGS (anygivensaturday.com): 1. Northern Iowa; 3. Montana; 5. Appalachian State; 14. Eastern Washington.
Football Gazette Top 40 Rankings (updated on 11/26): 1. Northern Iowa; 4. Appalachian State; 9. Montana; 11. Eastern Washington; 28. Northern Arizona.
Sagarin Computer Ratings Among FCS Schools (overall rank including FBS schools): 1. Northern Iowa (40th overall); 4. Appalachian State (66th overall); 14. Montana (99th overall); 19. Eastern Washington (110th overall); 29. UC Davis; 34. Northern Arizona; 53. Montana State; 55. Weber State; 63. Sacramento State; 68. Portland State; 80. Idaho State; 96. Northern Colorado. Also, 22. (overall) Brigham Young.
Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year Goes to Nichols: Eastern Washington University is fast becoming a Mecca of outstanding, award-winning quarterbacks.
For the fourth time in the last six years, an Eastern signal caller has been selected as the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year as sophomore Matt Nichols earned that honor when the All-Big Sky Conference team was announced on Nov. 19.
Nichols was one of 19 Eastern players honored, including four first team selections, three on the second team and 12 that received honorable mention. Eight of Eastern's 12 seniors were recognized. Last year, EWU had 13 players honored last year but the lone first team selection was EWU's kicker.
Last year, Nichols endured a 3-8 record as a freshman when he had a school-record 17 interceptions and just eight touchdowns. This season, Nichols has completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,559 yards, 32 touchdowns, just eight interceptions and a passing efficiency rating of 162.0 to rank sixth in that category in FCS.
"It's been an amazing turnaround," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "Matt has helped us improve a great deal, but so have our coaches and other players. Everybody worked hard in the off-season to make our team get better."
Joining Nichols on the first team were wide receiver Aaron Boyce, offensive guard Matt Alfred and defensive end Greg Peach. Alfred was honored for the fourth-straight year after earning first team honors in 2005 and second team honors in 2004 and 2006. Peach earned honorable mention in 2006.
Second team selections were offensive tackle Zach Wasielewski, defensive tackle Lance Witherspoon and safety Bryan Jarrett. Wasielewski was honorable mention last season and Jarrett earned first team All-Big Sky honors as a sophomore in 2005.
The 12 honorable mention selections included offensive tackle Rocky Hanni, who was honored for the fourth time. He was a first team selection as a freshman in 2004, honorable mention in 2005 and second team in 2006. Others honored on offense were guard Chris Carlsen, wide receiver Brynsen Brown, tight end Tom McAndrews and running back Dale Morris.
Receiving honorable mention on defense were end Jason Belford, tackle Shawn Powell, outside linebacker (rover) Anthony Dotson, linebacker Jared Kuhl, linebacker Makai Borden and cornerback Ira Jarmon. Earning honorable mention on special teams was Adam Macomber.
"We're very happy that so many players were recognized for their hard work," added Wulff. "They are all well-deserving of honors. I believe that honorable mention is every bit as rewarding as first or second team -- what's important is that they are being recognized by the other coaches in this conference."
Erik Meyer, the player Nichols replaced, was the Big Sky's Offensive Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005. Meyer played as a freshman under Josh Blankenship, who received the honor in 2002. One year earlier, current Miami Dolphin running back Jesse Chatman was the league's top offensive player, giving Eastern five of the last seven winners.
"That's very impressive," said Wulff. "We've had some very talented players and have had tremendous success on offense as a program. These honors have been a reflection of that, particularly in regards to the quarterbacks we've had. It's an extremely important position on our football team and we've been fortunate to have had some very talented quarterbacks play here."
The 30 touchdown passes Nichols has thrown are just one away from the school record of 31 set two years ago by Meyer. Last week, Nichols broke the school's single season rushing record for quarterbacks with 313.
"His improvement mirrors that of a lot of our players," said Wulff. "Last year we were a very young football team and most of those players have grown up this year. We adjusted our schemes to tailor to our talent, and that's paid off this season."
"Matt continues to grow as a quarterback, but he certainly deserved that award this year," Wulff added. "Consistency is going to be his continued path of development. He needs to strive to play well week-in and week-out."
All four of Eastern's senior offensive linemen were honored after they helped Eastern rank eighth in FCS with an average of 456.0 yards per game. Boyce caught 75 passes for 1,230 yards and nine touchdowns to earn first team All-Big Sky honors and rank in the top 11 nationally in both receptions (6.8 per game) and reception yards (111.8 per game). Peach was honored on the first team after having 53 tackles, including nine sacks that rank 12th in FCS (0.8 per game).
Witherspoon had 38 tackles, including one sack and a total of 11 1/2 tackles for losses. Jarrett was the team's second-leading tackler with 76 and added an interception and seven passes broken up.
Offensive Player of the Year
16 - Matt Nichols - Quarterback - 6-2 - 220 - So. - Cottonwood, Calif. (West Valley HS '05)
16 - Matt Nichols - Quarterback - 6-2 - 220 - So. - Cottonwood, Calif. (West Valley HS '05)
9 - Aaron Boyce - Wide Receiver - 6-2 - 205 - So. - Kent, Wash. (Kentwood HS '05)
66 - #Matt Alfred - Offensive Guard - 6-3 - 300 - Sr. - Gig Harbor, Wash. (Gig Harbor HS '03)
94 - ^Greg Peach - Defensive End - 6-2 - 250 - Jr. - Vancouver, Wash. (Evergreen HS '05)
#Also first team All-Big Sky in 2005 and second team in 2004 and 2006.
^Also honorable mention All-Big Sky in 2006.
64 - ^Zach Wasielewski - Offensive Tackle - 6-4 - 290 - Sr. - Seattle, Wash. (Chief Sealth HS '03)
97 - Lance Witherspoon - Defensive Tackle - 6-2 - 255 - Jr. - Federal Way, Wash. (Decatur HS '04)
6 - %Bryan Jarrett - Safety - 5-11 - 210 - Sr. - Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS '03 & Western Wash. Univ.)
%Also first team All-Big Sky in 2005.
^Also honorable mention All-Big Sky in 2006.
83 - Brynsen Brown - Wide Receiver - 6-1 - 210 - So. - Puyallup, Wash. (Emerald Ridge HS '05)
77 - @Rocky Hanni - Offensive Tackle - 6-5 - 290 - Sr. - Sumner, Wash. (Sumner HS '03)
53 - Chris Carlsen - Offensive Guard - 6-3 - 270 - Sr. - Poulsbo, Wash. (North Kitsap HS '03)
80 - Tom McAndrews - Tight End - 6-0 - 240 - Sr. - Spokane, Wash. (Mead HS '03)
22 - Dale Morris - Running Back - 5-9 - 205 - Jr. - Eugene, Ore. (Marist HS '04)
42 - Shawn Powell - Defensive Tackle - 6-1 - 250 - Jr. - Spokane, Wash. (Shadle Park HS '04)
55 - Jason Belford - Defensive End - 6-1 - 240 - Jr. - Tacoma, Wash. (Lincoln HS '04)
4 - Anthony Dotson - Outside Linebacker (rover) - 5-9 - 185 - Sr. - Federal Way, Wash. (Federal Way HS '03)
27 - Makai Borden - Inside Linebacker - 5-11 - 215 - So. - Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS '05)
50 - Jared Kuhl - Inside Linebacker - 6-0 - 230 - Sr. - Hillsboro, Ore. (Hillsboro HS '03 & Col. of the Siskiyous JC)
2 - Ira Jarmon - Cornerback - 5-8 - 190 - Sr. - Lakewood, Wash. (Clover Park HS '03)
35 - Adam Macomber - Special Teams - 5-6 - 170 - Jr. - Port Angeles, Wash. (Port Angeles HS '05) - -
@Also first team All-Big Sky in 2004, second team in 2006 and honorable mention in 2005.
Nichols Ranks in Top Six Nationally in Three Passing Categories: Sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols has now had six 300-yard passing games in his 23-game career, including five this season. He has seven performances with at least 300 yards of total offense.
Nichols ranks in the top six in three statistical categories in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. He is sixth in FCS this week in passing efficiency rating (162.0), fifth in passing offense (296.6) and fifth in total offense (324.8).
Nichols has now passed for 3,559 yards, 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season after having 17 interceptions (equaling a school record) and eight touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. This season he broke the school record of 31 touchdown passes set by Erik Meyer in 2004.
Nichols also broke the school's single season rushing record for quarterbacks as he now has 338 to break the record of 275 set by Mark Laitala in 1978. Meyer holds the career record with 681, and Nichols already has 453 in his career.
Nichols' passing yardage total is already the third-best in school history -- easily the most-ever for an EWU sophomore (Meyer had 2,301 as a sophomore in 2003). His average of 296.6 yards per game is currently second and his 3,897 yards of total offense is third. In most passing categories, he ranks just behind the quarterback he replaced -- Meyer, the 2005 winner of the Walter Payton Award.
On EWU's career passing lists, Nichols ranks in the top seven in all categories, including third in average yards per game (230.8) and second in efficiency rating (141.1). His 40 touchdowns are already fifth and his 5,308 yards is already fourth.
Nichols has thrown just eight interceptions in 398 attempts this season after throwing a school-record 17 interceptions a year ago. His ratio last season was an interception every 15.2 attempts and this year thus far it is one for every 50.0 attempts. His passing efficiency rating thus far is 162.0 compared to a 109.0 rating as a freshman.
Nichols had a school-record 37 completions on 59 attempts for 451 yards -- third best in school history -- in Eastern's disappointing 24-23 loss to Montana on Oct. 6. He came close to that with 34 completions in 44 attempts for 434 yards -- sixth-best all-time at EWU -- in a playoff win over McNeese State on Nov. 24. He completed 19-of-30 passes against Portland State, and his 363 yards in that game now ranks as the 25th best in school history. His previous career high was 329 as a freshman against Sacramento State.
Below is a complete list of his 300-yard outings:
300-Yard Passing Games for Nichols
451 - 37x59, 2td - Montana - 10/6/07 (#3 in school history)
434 - 34x44, 2td - McNeese State - 11/24/07 (#XXX in school history)
363 - 19x30, 2td - Portland State - 9/29/07 (#25 in school history)
329 - 21x42, 1td - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
328 - 20x29, 3td - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
316 - 17x22, 5td - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07
300-Yard Total Offense Games for Nichols
478 - 451 passing, 27 rushing - Montana - 10/6/07
459 - 434 passing. 25 rushing - McNeese State - 11/24/07
370 - 363 passing, 7 rushing - Portland State - 9/29/07
359 - 256 passing, 103 rushing - Weber State - 11/17/07
359 - 329 passing, 30 rushing - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
364 - 316 passing, 48 rushing - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07
355 - 328 passing, 27 rushing - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
Boyce in Top 13 Nationally in Receptions and Yards: With one of the most productive receiving seasons in school history, sophomore receiver Aaron Boyce has 80 catches for 1,271 yards and nine scores. In Football Championship Subdivision statistics, Boyce is 13th in receptions (6.7 per game) and fifth in receiving yards (105.9).
His catch total already ranks third all-time at EWU and his yardage total is fourth. His catch total ranks only behind the 87 catches Eric Kimble had in 12 games in 2005 and the 83 Kimble had in 2004. Boyce's yardage total ranks behind the 1,453 yards Kimble had in 13 games in 2004, the 1,419 Kimble had in 2005 and the 1,376 Jeff Ogden had in 14 games in 1997.
Boyce had a record-breaking performance at Montana on Oct. 6 and was selected by The Sports Network as the NCAA Football Championships Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week. Boyce, a 2005 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17. He finished the 24-23 loss to top-ranked Montana with 232 receiving yards to rank second in school history.
Boyce played just one year of high school football, but was a standout on the basketball court. As a junior, he teamed with former Eastern standout and current Detroit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey to lead Kentwood to the 2004 State 4A Championship.
Boyce, whose top yardage performance as a freshman in 2006 was 96 yards, has had six 100-yard receiving performances this season. His teammates have added five more 100-yard performances (plus one of 99) to give EWU a total of 11 this season. Here is a complete list:
100-Yard Receiving Games for Boyce
232 (17 catches, 1 TD) - Montana
186 (9 catches, 2 TD) - Sacramento State
135 (9 catches, 1 TD) - Brigham Young
126 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Montana State
119 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Portland State
107 (9 catches, 0 TD) - UC Davis
Other 100-Yard Receiving Games for EWU Players
139 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Brynsen Brown - Portland State
131 - (8 catches, 1 TD) - Tony Davis - McNeese State
107 (9 catches, 0 TD) - Tony Davis - UC Davis
104 - (7 catches, 0 TD) - Brynsen Brown - McNeese State
102 (2 catches, 1 TD) - Shane Eller - Northern Arizona
99 - (6 catches, 1 TD) - Brynsen Brown - Weber State
Nichols on Boyce: "Aaron is amazing. At any time I can really just throw the ball up and Aaron can make a play. It's great having a guy like that. Not every quarterback gets that luxury. If I get in trouble, I'm going to No. 9 and he gets open. Teams know where he is on the field and double team him, but he still gets open."
Other EWU Statistical Leaders: Eastern Washington is averaging 470.2 yards of offense after 12 games, good for fourth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern is also 18th in scoring offense (33.5), fifth in passing offense (304.8) and 53rd in rushing offense (165.4). Eastern is also seventh in passing efficiency (160.7) with a school-record 34 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. The Eagles, behind a veteran offensive line that includes four senior starters, has allowed 24 quarterback sacks to rank 62nd nationally (2.0 sacks per game), down from third after the Idaho State game when EWU had allowed just one in its first three games.
Defensively, Eastern is 71st in total defense (379.2), 23rd in scoring defense (20.8), 28th in rushing defense (130.4), 104th in passing defense (248.8) and 19th in passing efficiency defense (109.3).
Through its first four games of the season, the Eagles had a plus 2.5 margin per game to rank first in turnover margin among the 116 teams in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Currently, Eastern is 13th with 18 turnovers this season (10 interceptions and eight fumbles) while opponents have 33 (22 interceptions and 11 fumbles). Eastern ranks third in interceptions (total of 22), with 12 different players picking off passes. Last season, the Eagles forced 26 turnovers and had 24 themselves.
Junior Dale Morris, who has had 443 yards rushing and seven touchdowns in Eastern's last five games, is 71st in rushing (71.8 per game). Punter Fritz Brayton ranks 47th nationally (39.8 per punt) and kicker Felipe Macias is 59th in scoring (7.0) and 50th in field goals (0.92, total of 11). Junior defensive end Greg Peach is seventh in sacks (0.92 per game, total of 11).
Appalachian State Statistical Leaders: The Mountaineers have the fifth-best offense in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, averaging 468.6 yards per game. They are fifth in rushing offense (267.5), 59th in passing offense (201.1), 11th in passing efficiency (151.3) and third in scoring (41.6). Defensively, the Mountaineers are 67th in total defense (374.7), 94th in rushing defense (202.0), 24th in passing efficiency defense (111.3), 20th in pass defense (172.7) and 57th in scoring defense (25.8).
Individually, Kevin Richardson is 47th in rushing offense (90.4) and Julian Rauch is 17th in field goals (1.3 per game, total of 16) and 19th in scoring (8.75). Quarterback Armanti Edwards has only played eight games and does not qualify yet to rank in FCS. But he did his passing efficiency rating of 141.3 would rank 23rd, his average of 132.5 rushing yards per game would rank eighth and his average of 300.9 yards of offense per game would rank seventh.
Alfred and Hanni Have Each Started More Than 40 Games: Eastern offensive linemen Rocky Hanni and Matt Alfred have each started more than 40 games dating back to their freshman seasons in 2004. Alfred hasn't missed a start since early in the 2004 season, giving him a streak of 45-straight starts. Hanni started the first four games of his career, missed two games with a concussion and had started every game since (38 consecutive) until missing the Northern Arizona game on Nov. 10 with a sprained ankle. He started his 44th game against McNeese State on Nov. 24.
Eastern's other three starting offensive linemen all have at least 19 starts. Tackle Zach Wasielewski has started 34 games and guard Chris Carlsen and center Charlie Wulff have each started 19 for a total of 261 starts along EWU's offensive line. Wulff is the nephew of EWU head coach Paul Wulff.
Five Eagles Selected Academic All-District VIII: Five EWU football players, the most in school history, have been selected to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII team released Nov. 8 as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
Those honored on the first team include senior tight end Tom McAndrews, who owns a perfect 4.0 grade point average at EWU. Senior offensive lineman Chris Carlsen and junior defensive lineman Jacob Kragt were also honored on the first team, and join McAndrews as nominees for Academic All-America honors which will be announced later this month.
Second team selections were receiver Tony Davis and defensive back Brett Igbinoba. To qualify, players must have at least a 3.2 grade point average and play in at least half of the team's games, as well as be a significant contributor to the squad.
McAndrews is a double major in finance and economics, and is a 2003 graduate of Mead High School in Spokane, Wash. Carlsen, a mechanical engineering major with a 3.60 GPA, is from Poulsbo, Wash., and graduated from North Kitsap HS in 2003. Kragt is a 2005 graduate of Ritzville, Wash., High School and is a 3.84 student majoring in biology.
Igbinoba is also a biology major and has a 3.21 grade point average after graduating from Cheney, Wash., High School in 2005. Davis is another 2005 graduate from Olympia, Wash., and Capitol High School, and has a 3.27 GPA while majoring in interdisciplinary studies.
District VIII includes all NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams from nine western states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
Eastern football players have now been honored 46 times since 1989 on the All-District VIII squad, and six players have gone on to win eight Academic All-America honors. Eastern has had four players honored previously in a single season but never five.
Eastern nominated one player for every position the Eagles had a student-athlete who qualified. Here is the complete list:
Tight End - Tom McAndrews - Finance and Economics - Senior - Spokane, Wash.
Offensive Line - Chris Carlsen - Mechanical Engineering - Senior - Poulsbo, Wash.
Wide Receiver - Tony Davis - Interdisciplinary Studies - Sophomore - Olympia, Wash.
Linebacker - Marcus Walker - Interdisciplinary Studies - Junior - Pullman, Wash.
Running Back - Toke Kefu - Health and Fitness - Senior - San Mateo, Calif.
Defensive Line - Jacob Kragt - Biology - Sophomore - Ritzville, Wash.
Quarterback - Alex Smart - Interdisciplinary Studies - Junior - North Bend, Wash.
Defensive Back - Brett Igbinoba - Biology - Sophomore - Cheney, Wash.
Wide Receiver Quartet Ahead of Previous Quartet: Eastern's returning receiving corp includes a senior and five sophomores who are learning their trade via trial by fire. Three of the sophomores - Tony Davis, Brynsen Brown and Aaron Boyce - combined for 118 catches for 1,539 yards and eight touchdowns as redshirt freshmen in 2006. Jeffrey Solomon added seven catches as a true freshman but is redshirting in 2007. So far in their careers, Davis, Brown and Boyce have combined for 278 catches for 3,994 yards and 25 touchdowns in 65 games worth of experience (52 starts).
Those four young players are reminders of a recent quartet of players that began playing with quarterback Erik Meyer in 2002. Eric Kimble, Raul Vijil, Richmond Sanders and Craig McIntyre had career totals of 503 catches for 7,858 yards and 74 touchdowns in 156 games worth of experience (74 starts).
In 2005, Meyer and those players won their second-straight Big Sky Conference title and appeared in the playoffs for the second-straight season. Meyer would go on to win the Walter Payton Award in 2005 as the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
"They are not at that level yet, but at the same stage of their careers, they are clearly ahead of those guys," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff of his corp of sophomore receivers early in the 2007 season. "Whether they can continue to make themselves better and get them to play at a higher level, that remains to be seen. But there is talent there, and if they are mature about how they handle their business, then they have a chance to really improve. As much as the coaches drive them and push them, ultimately it's their responsibility to make themselves better athletes, better players and ultimately better people."
Nichols on Receiving Corp: "We have a great group of receivers, including our starting sophomore corp. They are really talented and find holes, especially with a year under our belts. We know how to work against defenses a lot better than we did last year. I think that really showed in our first few games. We know how to find holes and know where the weaknesses are in certain coverages."
Eddie Robinson Candidate Paul Wulff Wins 50th: Eastern head coach Paul Wulff, currently in his eighth season at the helm, is one of 16 finalists for the Eddie Robinson Award. The Robinson Award, named for the legendary former Grambling coach, has been given annually by The Sports Network since 1987 to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national coach of the year. Wulff coached Eastern to a final regular season finish of 8-3 after going just 3-8 a year ago.
won his 50th game as head coach at EWU when the Eagles edged Northern Colorado 17-7 on Nov. 3, 2007. His current total of 53 wins is third-best in school history behind record-holder Dick Zornes (89 victories in 15 seasons from 1979-93) and Red Reese (66 wins in 13 seasons from 1930-41 and 1946).
Wulff owns Eastern's record with 34 Big Sky Conference victories, and his .576 winning percentage (34-25) is tops among the three coaches who have coached the Eagles since EWU became a league member in 1987. Zornes was 26-28 (.481) from 1987-93 and Mike Kramer was 37-32 (.522) from 1994-99.
In addition, the victory over UNC assured Eastern of a winning season, its seventh in eight seasons under Wulff. It was also EWU's 12th winning season in the last 16 years, with Kramer having four winning seasons (in six years) and Zornes finishing his career with a pair of winning seasons. Eastern failed to have a winning record overall in EWU's first five seasons as a member of the Big Sky.
In the last 16 seasons, EWU has won four Big Sky Conference titles and advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs all four of those seasons (1992, 1997, 2004, 2005). Wulff has been at Eastern for the last 15 years, joining Eastern's staff as a volunteer assistant in Zornes' last season in 1993.
EWU Injuries Mount After Portland State Loss: Eastern lost eight players for the season because of injuries, with most of the team's injuries this season occurring against Portland State on Sept. 29. Since then, only a handful of significant injuries have occurred, including running back/fullback Alexis Alexander who suffered an abdominal injury against Sacramento State and has been out ever since. He is questionable for this week's playoff game.
In the PSU game -- a 28-21 loss -- eight players left the field with injuries. Among them were wide receiver Tony Davis (shoulder), center Chris Carlsen (knee), fullback Toke Kefu (hand), tight end Nathan Overbay (hand), long snapper Mark Lathim (shoulder) and free safety Kevin Hatch (shoulder). Even rover Anthony Dotson (knee) and kicker Felipe Macias (knee) were helped off the field with injuries, but both were able to return.
In addition, starting strong-side linebacker Makai Borden (toe) was injured in practice before the PSU game and missed that game, as did starting defensive tackle Lance Witherspoon (ankle). Both returned to play sparingly against Montana and returned to starting positions versus Montana State.
Carlsen missed a pair of games and Davis missed four. Davis returned to play sparingly against Northern Colorado. Kefu and Overbay are now able to play with their injuries, however, Kefu will limit his action to the scout team as he uses an injury redshirt to return in 2007.
Besides Kefu, the list of players out for the season includes several significant starters or backups. Safeties Ethen Robinson (Achilles tendon) and Jesse Hoffman (elbow) were lost for the season with injuries suffered in Eastern's season-opener against Montana-Western. Jesse's brother, wide receiver Shane Hoffman (toe), is also out for the year. Before the season started, senior safety Gregor Smith was lost for the year with a nagging shoulder injury. Sophomore wide receiver Jeffrey Solomon is redshirting after a back injury that has kept him sidelined since practices began in August. The other players lost for the year were freshman redshirt Joe Beitinger (shoulder) and true freshman Chris Powers (shoulder).
Six Players Make Starting Debuts for Eagles in Opener: Just six position players made their starting debuts for Eastern Washington when the Eagles hosted Montana-Western on Aug. 31.
Powell is a junior two-year letter winner who graduated in 2004 from Shadle Park High School in Spokane, Wash. Hatch is a sophomore from Freeman (Wash.) High School, and lettered as a backup and special teams player last year. Hosley is a 2005 graduate of Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Wash.
A freshman redshirt, Leahy is a 2006 graduate of Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School, the same school that produced All-America guard Matt Alfred (2003 graduate). Overbay, whose uncle Lyle Overbay plays for the Toronto Blue Jays, is from Chehalis, Wash., and graduated in 2005 from W.F. West High School. Martin, a freshman redshirt from La Crosse-Washtucna (Wash.) High School, made his debut when the Eagles started in a two tight end formation.
Hatch and Leahy are taking the place of returning veterans who have to miss the season. Offensive tackle Julian Stewart is academically ineligible and free safety Gregor Smith will miss the year with a nagging shoulder injury.
Besides those new starters, Eastern has new special teams players. Taking over at kicker is Felipe Macias, a junior college transfer from Moorpark College in California. Washington State transfer Fritz Brayton takes over at punter.
Since the opener, only five Eastern players have made starting debuts this season. Against UC Davis on Sept. 15, sophomore left tackle Chris Thomas made the first start of his career. Thomas is a 2004 graduate of Sumner (Wash.) High School, the same school senior Rocky Hanni graduated from in 2003. A.J. Jimerson made the first start of his career at fullback in EWU's win at Sacramento State on Oct. 27. Jimerson is a 2004 graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle. Junior college transfer Ryan Kelley made the first start of his career against Northern Colorado on Nov. 3 and had an interception and six tackles. Tyler Jolley, a 2006 graduate of Spokane's East Valley High School, made his first career start as a defensive tackle in EWU's 52-24 win at Northern Arizona.
Here are the number of career starts by Eastern players in the 2007 season:
Defense (210 starts by 19 players): Greg Peach 26, Bryan Jarrett 26, Jason Belford 24, Ira Jarmon 23, Lance Witherspoon 17, Anthony Dotson 14, Makai Borden 13, Jared Kuhl 12, Kevin Hatch 12, Shawn Powell 11, Lonnie Hosley 8, Gregor Smith 7, Josh Jacobson 5, Marcus Walker 4, Ryan Kelley 4, Adam Macomber 1, Jacob Kragt 1, Tyler Jolley 1, Dezmon Cole 1 (includes one start on offense).
Offense (297 starts by 21 players): Matt Alfred 45, Rocky Hanni 44, Zach Wasielewski 34, Aaron Boyce 22, Matt Nichols 22, Chris Carlsen 19, Charlie Wulff 19, Brynsen Brown 19, Tom McAndrews 11, Tony Davis 11, Dale Morris 11, Alexis Alexander 9, Shane Eller 8, Chris Thomas 7, Julian Stewart 4, Toke Kefu 3, A.J. Jimerson 2, Nathan Overbay 2, Matt Martin 2, Brice Leahy 1, Jeffrey Solomon 1, Ryan Forney 1.
EAGLES IN PRO FOOTBALL
Starting Dolphins Running Back Jesse Chatman Featured Twice in Sports Illustrated: Now a starting running back for the Miami Dolphins, former Eastern running back Jesse Chatman had a full-page spread in the Oct. 1 issue of Sports Illustrated talking about how he lost 60 pounds after eating himself out of the National Football League.
He made his first NFL start on Oct. 28 in a 13-10 loss to the New York Giants in the first-ever NFL regular season game at Wembley Stadium in London. He finished with 79 yards on 16 carries (4.9 per carry), and had three catches for 21 yards. On Nov. 11 in a 13-10 loss to Buffalo, he rushed for a career-high 124 yards on 27 carries and caught five passes for 25 more yards.
Injuries caused him to starting gaining weight when he played for the San Diego Chargers in 2004, and subsequently he was released and did not play in 2005 and 2006. He ballooned to a high as 283 pounds before diet and exercise helped him lose the weight. Chatman started working out at all hours, and switched from fried food all the time to oatmeal, spinach and stir-fry.
Eventually, he signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins and is the team's backup running back behind Ronnie Brown and is returning kickoffs. Now weighing 223 pounds, he earned a roster spot in the preseason when he had a team-leading 116 rushing yards (6.4 per carry) with two touchdowns, and added six receptions for 52 yards.
During the preseason, he was listed in the "Who's Hot" section in the Aug. 20 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. Here's what the magazine had to say about Chatman, who rushed for 4,173 yards and 53 touchdowns from 1999-2001 at Eastern:
"Running back Jesse Chatman gained 392 yards (on just 65 carries) for the Chargers in 2004. Then he gained 50 pounds and missed two seasons. Now looking svelte in a Dolphins uni, he broke off a 74-yard TD run last Saturday. Chatman: "I'm not going to take this for granted."
Three Players Remain on NFL Rosters: Michael Roos (Tennessee Titans), running back Jesse Chatman (Miami Dolphins) and defensive end Keith Grennan (San Diego Chargers) all secured spots on NFL teams when final cuts were announced in early September in the 2007 season. Roos and Chatman are on the active roster and Grennan is a practice squad player.
In his team's 2007 opener, Chairman rushed seven times for 15 yards and caught six passes for 48 yards in an overtime loss to the Washington Redskins. Roos helped the Titans rush for a club-record 282 yards in a 13-10 win over Jacksonville.
Former Eastern football star Erik Meyer was one of seven former Eagles who started the 2007 season with NFL teams. The others three were kicker Brett Bergstrom (New Orleans Saints), safety Brandon Keeler (Arizona Cardinals) and offensive lineman Harrison Nikolao (Cincinnati Bengals). Those three, as well as Grennan, were rookies after playing for Eastern in 2006.
Meyer capped a record-breaking year in NFL Europa by signing a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks during the summer. He attended Seattle's training camp in Kirkland, Wash., in August, a camp that formerly took place in EWU's hometown of Cheney, Wash.
A year ago, Meyer was with Cincinnati before getting cut and Eric Kimble was with Miami. Kimble suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon and missed the 2006 season, then was released on March 1, 2007.
Other current pros include Jesse Hendrix who is now in Montreal of the Canadian Football League, along with fellow Alouettes Luke Fritz and Dario Romero. Lamont Brightful started the 2007 season with Montreal and is now with Calgary. Other former Eagles still active in the CFL are Ryan Phillips (British Columbia) and Bashir Levingston (Toronto). Isaiah Trufant is in the ArenaFootball League, joining the Kansas City Brigade in 2007 after playing for the Spokane Shock in af2. Raul Vijil is a current member of the Shock, and other current af2 players include Josh Blankenship (Tulsa Talons) and Muhammad Shamsid-Deen (Tri-Cities Fever).
Several former EWU coaches have also spent time in the professional ranks, including Jimmy Lake, Jim McElwain, Keith Murphy, Randy Hansen, Bill Diedrick Jr., and Aaron Best. Diedrick, a 2007 inductee into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame, and Best are now offensive coaches for the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL.
Meyer Sets NFL Europa Completion Percentage Record That Will Never Be Broken: Former Eastern quarterback Erik Meyer completed 68.8 percent of his passes in the 2007 season for the Cologne Centurions, setting a NFL Europa record that will never be broken. Shortly after the season ended, the National Football League decided to cease existence of the league.
Meyer led the Centurions to a 6-4 record. He ranked second among NFLE quarterbacks with a passer rating of 101.1. He completed 141-of-241 passes for 1,612 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Meyer also added 138 rushing yards and one touchdown. Shortly after the season, he signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks.
He was NFL Europa's Player of the Week after his performance for the Cologne Centurions in a key victory over the Amsterdam Admirals on June 9. He completed 21-of-29 passes for 287 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions during Cologne's 31-13 victory. That performance gave him a league-best quarterback rating of 138.1 in the game, edging his previous league-best performance of 136.9 earlier this season against Berlin.
He earned the starting position in week three with a 14-6 victory over the Rhein Fire. At the time, the win moved the Centurions into second place in the standings behind the defending champion Frankfurt Galaxy.
While at EWU, Meyer was named the Big Sky Offensive MVP in 2004 and 2005 and his senior year was named the Walter Payton Award winner. He helped lead Eastern to back-to-back Big Sky Conference co-championships and two NCAA Championship Subdivision playoff berths.
He broke the NCAA Championship Subdivision record for efficiency rating (166.5) by quarterbacks with at least 400 completions. He had 10,261 yards and 84 touchdowns in 42 career games.
Blankenship Helps Tulsa Advance to ArenaCup8 Title: Former Eastern quarterback Josh Blankenship helped the Tulsa Talons to the championship game of the af2 indoor football league. However, a mid-season injury made his contribution minimal after leading Tulsa to victories in its first seven games of the season. Tulsa won the title with a 73-66 victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but Blankenship did not play.
Blankenship, who earned honorable mention All-America honors and was the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year for EWU in 2002, passed for 43 touchdowns in those first seven games before suffering a foot injury (strained arch support). He played in just five games after that as Justin Allgood took over as the starter and has held that position ever since. In 12 games, Blankenship has completed 54 percent of his passes for 2,365 yards, 54 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Tulsa is 17-2 this season, including three playoff victories.
MORE SEASON NOTES
Nichols Player of the Week for the Second-Straight Week: From 3-8 to 8-3. From a school-record 17 interceptions to the cusp of a school record for touchdown passes.
If Eastern Washington University's football program is the comeback team of the 2007 college football season in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, then Matt Nichols is the comeback player, or at the very least, most improved.
Nichols was selected as the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week for the second-straight week after helping Eastern conclude an improbable late-season run with a 38-16 victory over Weber State Nov. 17 at rain-soaked Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
The sophomore from Cottonwood, Calif., passed for 256 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for another 103 yards in EWU's fourth-straight win overall and fifth-straight league victory. Nichols accounted for 359 of EWU's 426 yards of total offense in the win over Weber State as EWU scored 24 unanswered points to overcome a 16-14 second-half deficit.
"He did a great job and took advantage of the things that were working well for us," said Wulff. "He did some big things in a big game. It was a good thing for him to come in and play well back-to-back weeks."
It was the third POW honor for this season for Nichols, who was 17-of-22 for 316 yards and five touchdowns a week earlier versus Northern Arizona when he also earned national player of the week accolades. His 30 touchdown passes is just one away from the school record of 31 set two years ago by the player he replaced, 2005 Walter Payton Award winner Erik Meyer.
With 103 rushing yards against WSU, Nichols more than doubled his previous career-best of 48 rushing yards set a week earlier in a 52-24 victory at NAU that earned him his second player of the week accolade, as well as College Sports News National Player of the Week honors.
He passed for 316 yards, 186 in the first quarter alone, as EWU ended the game with 556 yards of total offense. Nichols completed 17-of-22 passes for 317 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions for an impressive efficiency rating of 273.3.
Nichols earned Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors on the opening weekend of the season when he had a school-record six touchdown passes against Montana-Western on Aug. 31.
Nichols on Regular Season Finish: "Coming off of last season our ultimate goal to get to where we are now. I think a lot of our guys came together towards the end of the season and we started making plays when we needed them. We have won four games in a row and we plan on winning four more."
Wulff on 8-3 Regular Season Record: "No matter what we were happy with how we played this year. We were basically one point away from being Big Sky Champions in a game we felt we controlled. We had some hard times early in the year and our kids have come back and won four games in a row. We are playing good football now."
Nichols on Being Picked to Finish Fifth in the Big Sky: "That just gave us motivation. We knew we were better than fifth in the Big Sky and we just had to come out and prove it."
Wulff on At-Large Playoff Berth: "I was hoping it was just a formality. I clearly thought we were one of the better teams in the country. I think the way we played this season proved that. I am very excited for our team, especially the seniors, to have the opportunity to compete for a national championship. We are one of 16 teams in America that have the opportunity to play for the national championship and we need to seize that opportunity."
Wulff on Qualifying for Playoffs Three out of the Last Four Seasons: "There are not a lot of teams that can say that at our level. I think it means a lot -- it's a statement that says our football program is on solid ground."
12 Eagle Seniors Honored in Pre-Game Introductions: A group of 12 EWU seniors were honored in pre-game introductions before the Weber State game as they played their final regular season game in an Eagle uniform at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
Of the 12, six of them will earn their fourth varsity letter at Eastern this fall. Four of them are offensive linemen as Matt Alfred, Chris Carlsen, Rocky Hanni and Zach Wasielewski have combined for 142 starts in their careers. The other two four-year letter winners are cornerback Ira Jarmon (23 career starts) and tight end Tom McAndrews (11 career starts). In all, the seniors have combined for 237 starts heading into the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.
One senior who wasn't honored was Gregor Smith, who is applying for a sixth year as an injury hardship case. Smith missed the 2007 season with a torn labrum in his shoulder that had already kept the 2003 graduate of nearby Lakeside High School (Nine Mile Falls, Wash.) out of 11 of 36 EWU games in his career. He had his third surgery on the shoulder on Oct. 31, 2007, and hopes to return to the lineup if his petition for a sixth year is approved.
Another senior who also wasn't honored -- thanks to a revised NCAA rule -- is fullback Toke Kefu. Kefu was injured in Eastern's fourth game of the season versus Portland State, and in any other year previous to 2007 he would have played one too many to be eligible for an automatic injury hardship. However, NCAA rules were revised this year that enables football players to play in as many as four games and be able to get the year back.
Here is the complete list of seniors on EWU's 2007 roster:
No. - Name - Position - Height - Weight - Year - Experience - Hometown (Previous Schools)
66 - Matt Alfred - OL - 6-3 - 300 - Sr. - 3L* - Gig Harbor, Wash. (Gig Harbor HS '03)
53 - Chris Carlsen - OL - 6-3 - 270 - Sr. - 3L* - Poulsbo, Wash. (North Kitsap HS '03)
30 - Dezmon Cole - LB - 5-7 - 190 - Sr. - 2L* - Lacey, Wash. (North Thurston HS '03)
4 - Anthony Dotson - DB - 5-9 - 185 - Sr. - 2L* - Federal Way, Wash. (Federal Way HS '03)
26 - Shane Eller - WR - 5-11 - 185 - Sr. - 1L - Corning, Calif. (Red Bluff HS '04 & Butte JC)
77 - Rocky Hanni - OL - 6-5 - 290 - Sr. - 3L* - Sumner, Wash. (Sumner HS '03)
2 - Ira Jarmon - DB - 5-8 - 190 - Sr. - 3L* - Lakewood, Wash. (Clover Park HS '03)
6 - Bryan Jarrett - DB - 5-11 - 210 - Sr. - 2L* - Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS '03 & Western Wash. Univ.)
50 - Jared Kuhl - LB - 6-0 - 230 - Sr. - 1L* - Hillsboro, Ore. (Hillsboro HS '03 & Col. of the Siskiyous JC)
80 - Tom McAndrews - TE - 6-0 - 240 - Sr. - 3L* - Spokane, Wash. (Mead HS '03)
37 - Brady Smith - DB - 5-10 - 185 - Sr. - 1L* - Spokane, Wash. (Rogers HS '03 & Santa Monica JC)
64 - Zach Wasielewski - OL - 6-4 - 290 - Sr. - 3L* - Seattle, Wash. (Chief Sealth HS '03)
Gregor Smith - DB - 6-1 - 215 - Sr. - 3L* - Nine Mile Falls, Wash. (Lakeside HS '03)
Belford Honored by Big Sky: Defensive end Jason Belford was selected as the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week after he intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown barely a minute into the game in Eastern's 52-24 win at Northern Arizona on Nov. 10.
The 2004 graduate of Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash., also had eight tackles, including three for losses totaling eight yards.
"He was always around the ball and made a lot of tackles," said EWU head coach Paul Wulff of Belford. "He played well."
Eastern allowed Northern Arizona to finish with 469 yards of offense, but the Eagles did a good job of containing NAU running back Alan Henderson. He entered this year's meeting with 838 yards and six touchdowns this season, and had 265 yards and two touchdowns for NAU last year against EWU. He finished with just 70 on 17 carries in this year's meeting.
Shhhhh! Playoff Talk Not Allowed: With its 52-24 romp at Northern Arizona, Eastern Washington was happy to win a game decisively after struggling to wins the previous two weekends over the bottom two teams in the Big Sky Conference. Eastern held off Sacramento State 38-30 and then edged Northern Colorado 17-7.
Playoff talk was part of the blame, and Eastern head coach Paul Wulff tried to put an end to it.
"I think we lost some focus talking about something that is way out there, and it still is," said Wulff. "We aren't good enough to play poorly and win. There was too much talk of that going into the Sac State and Northern Colorado games. We won the games but we didn't play as well as we should have."
"After we lost to BYU we knew we had to win our next four to go to the playoffs," added quarterback Matt Nichols. "But there hasn't been talk in our locker room about playoffs because that is something our coaches told us not to talk about."
Happy Homecoming for Californians: It was a happy homecoming for several Eagles playing in their home state of California, including quarterback Matt Nichols, in Eastern's 38-30 victory over Sacramento State on Oct. 27.
Nichols is a 2005 graduate of Cottonwood High School, located just 131 miles from Sacramento. Other Eagles returning included receiver Shane Eller (Corning), center Charlie Wulff (Woodland), receiver Nicholas Ramos (Winters), kicker Felipe Macias (Oxnard), cornerback Ryan Kelley (Los Angeles) and safety Terry Mixon (Compton). In addition, head coach Paul Wulff is a 1985 graduate of nearby Davis High School in Davis, Calif.
Eastern's entire allotment of 150 complimentary tickets were used by players and coaches, but many more EWU fans also attended to give Eastern one of its best-ever road crowds among the total of 4,706 that were in attendance. In fact, one player purchased additional tickets for the approximately 30 family and friends who were on hand.
Nichols, who shook hands along the railing after the game with the 100 family and friends on hand to watch him play, said it was a "very good feeling" to come away with a victory in his first visit to California as EWU's starting quarterback. "It was a big day for me to be able to come back here and compete," he said. "I had a good game in front of them and I had a lot of fun."
On Eastern's pre-game radio show, Nichols and Eller recalled competing against each other in high school in 2004 while Eller was at Red Bluff High School. Red Bluff beat Cottonwood earlier in the season, but in the playoffs, Nichols was victorious. Eller intercepted Nichols in the playoffs but was hurt on the return and did not play the remainder of the game as Red Bluff suffered its first defeat of the season.
4.0 Student Tom McAndrews Semifinalist for Draddy Trophy: Senior 4.0 student-athlete Tom McAndrews was one of 153 semifinalists -- 40 from the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision -- for The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) 2007 Draddy Trophy, presented by HealthSouth.
As one of those 153 student-athletes, he was among the candidates for the NFF 2007 National Scholar-Athlete Awards. However, he was not among the list of finalists announced on Oct. 25.
McAndrews, a 6-foot, 240-pound tight end is a double major in finance and economics at EWU. He will complete his bachelor's degree in December 2007, and then begin work sometime soon on his master's in business administration.
With a perfect 4.0 grade point average, he has been named to the Dean's List 12 out of a possible 12 quarters at Eastern. He is expected to be selected to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team for the fourth-straight year in 2007. He will be nominated for ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America honors and for a NCAA Postgraduate scholarship.
McAndrews was the 2006 recipient of the "Iron Eagle" Award for EWU Football academic and athletic achievement. He was awarded a Trustee's Scholarship (2006), Washington Promise Scholarship (2003) and Red Reese Scholarship (2003). He also became a member of Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society (2007).
He scored the first touchdown of his Eastern career against UC Davis on Sept. 15, 2007, on an 8-yard reception in the fourth quarter of the 41-31 win. Mainly used as a blocking tight end, fullback and on special teams, he entered the 2007 season with 12 catches for 125 yards in 29 games played (five as a starter). In 2005 he was EWU's Most Improved Player and helped Eastern Washington win Big Sky Conference titles in 2004 and 2005, earning berths in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs both seasons.
His community service activities include serving as a PLUS (Program Leading to Undergraduate Success) Facilitator in business law for the EWU Academic Support Center (2006). He was an intern as Community and Economic Development Assistant for the Cheney community/EWU campus development group called Pathways to Progress (2005). He has also been a volunteer for Harvest Food Bank, Spokane Guild School, Habitat for Humanity and the Cheney School District.
McAndrews was also a 4.0 student at Mead High School in Spokane, Wash., where he was the 2003 Valedictorian.
Wulff on Resiliency of His Team: "There is great resiliency on this football team. They are a great team -- they get along with each other and they enjoy being around each other. These players are a lot of fun for the coaching staff to be around. We have faced a lot of obstacles over time, so being behind doesn't faze them. We were down 14 at Montana and came back without any hesitation. I didn't feel like it would be any different against BYU. Despite the margin, I didn't think we ever went into a shell."
Eagles Versus Football Bowl Subdivision Members: Since 1982 when it became a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, Eastern is now 7-15 all-time versus Football Bowl Subdivision teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus FBS foes. Here is Eastern's complete list of games versus FBS members since 1983.
Year - Opponent - Result
1983 - Cal State-Long Beach - W, 20-17
1985 - at Cal State-Long Beach - W, 30-23
1986 - at Cal State-Long Beach - L, 34-35
1990 - at #10 Houston - L, 21-84
1994 - at Utah State - W, 49-31
1996 - at Boise State - W, 27-21
1996 - at Idaho - L, 27-37
1997 - Idaho - W, 24-21
1998 - at Idaho - L, 14-31
1999 - Idaho - L, 21-48
1999 - at Boise State - L, 7-41
2000 - at Oregon State - L, 19-21
2000 - at Boise State - L, 23-41
2001 - at Connecticut - W, 35-17
2002 - at Arizona State - L, 2-38
2003 - at San Diego State - L, 9-19
2003 - at Idaho - W, 8-5
2004 - at Air Force - L, 20-42
2005 - at San Jose State - L, 21-35
2006 - at Oregon State - L, 17-56
2006 - at #6 West Virginia - L, 3-52
2007 - at Brigham Young - L, 7-42
EWU Plays in Front of Largest Crowds in School History in 2006 and 2007: Eastern's 2007 game at sold-out LaVell Edwards Stadium broke the year-old record for largest crowd the Eagles have ever played in front of. Strong winds, rain, snow and temperatures ranging from 37-45 degrees didn't keep many fans at home as the announced crowd of 64,522 was even larger than the stadium's listed capacity of 64,045.
Eastern's 2006 game versus West Virginia at sold-out Milan Puskar Stadium was attended by 59,504 fans -- the largest crowd by nearly 20,000 fans the Eagles have ever played against. The previous record was 39,581 set at Arizona State in 2002. Eastern's game at Oregon State in 2006 is now the fourth-largest at 38,071. Below is a list of the 14 crowds in excess of 20,000 the Eagles have ever played against.
Attendance - Opponent - Date - Result
64,522 - at Brigham Young - Oct. 20, 2007 - L, 7-42
59,504 - at West Virginia - Sept. 9, 2006 - L, 3-52
39,581 - at Arizona State - Aug. 31, 2002 - L, 2-38
38,071 - at Oregon State - Aug. 31, 2006 - L, 17-56
34,389 - at Air Force - Sept. 11, 2004 - L, 20-42
30,782 - at Oregon State - Sept. 2, 2000 - L, 19-21
27,323 - at U.S. International - Oct. 28, 1967 - W, 44-19
25,493 - at Boise State - Oct. 14, 2000 - L, 23-41
23,739 - at Montana - Oct. 15, 2005 - W, 34-20
23,329 - at Montana - Nov. 15, 2003 - L, 10-41
23,226 - at Montana - Oct. 6, 2007 - L, 23-24
21,981 - at Boise State - Oct. 9, 1999 - L, 7-41
21.487 - at Boise State - Sept. 21, 1991 - L, 17-31
21,145 - at San Diego State - Aug. 30, 2003 - L, 9-19
Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week Lance Witherspoon and Quarterback Matt Nichols Lead Eastern to Impressive Win: Sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols returned from a stomach contusion to throw for 257 yards and three touchdowns to help the Eagles pull away from 11th-ranked Montana State for a 35-13 Big Sky Conference football victory Oct. 13. But the play of Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week Lance Witherspoon was also very noteworthy as he earned the league's defensive player of the week honor for his efforts.
Witherspoon, who missed one full game and parts of two others with a high ankle sprain, led the defensive charge as Eastern out-gained MSU 475-315 in total offense. In the second half, the Eagles had a 248-101 advantage as they scored the final 21 points of the game.
Nichols completed 15-of-24 passes a week after throwing 59 times at Montana in a 24-23 loss. He finished with 300 yards of total offense against the Bobcats as the Eagles rushed for an additional 183 yards en route to a 475-yard day on offense. He had 203 yards of offense in the second half alone, and was not sacked in the second half after getting sacked twice in the first half.
"We had to settle him down at halftime," said Wulff. "I am really proud of him because he came back and played well in the second half after being rattled physically. He ran the ball effectively to get us some key first downs and he was accurate, so he did a really good job."
Witherspoon returned to his starting position to register a team-high and career-high 10 tackles in the win. He was credited with four unassisted tackles and six assisted stops. He had one sack for a loss of eight yards, and three other tackles for loss totaling 10 yards. His sack came on third down and led to a MSU punt with Eastern leading 28-13 in the third quarter.
"It's nice to have Lance back -- we have missed him for awhile now and it hurts our defense not having him," said Wulff of the junior from Federal Way, Wash. "Having him back, we are a better defense."
Boyce Selected as National Offensive Player of the Week by The Sports Network: For years, Aaron Boyce has watched his good friend Rodney Stuckey take his tremendous basketball ability to the national stage. Now it's Boyce's turn.
After a record-breaking performance at Montana on Oct. 6, the sophomore wide receiver was selected by The Sports Network as the NCAA Football Championships Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week.
Boyce, a 2005 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17. He finished the 24-23 loss to top-ranked Montana with 232 receiving yards to rank second in school history.
"It's pretty rewarding, but it would have felt better with a win," said Boyce, whose team had a 565-289 advantage in total offense in the game. "It was a frustrating game to lose and sort of puts a chip on our shoulder. We came up short but that adds to our hunger to play better and win next time."
Boyce played just one season of football at Kentwood and was better known there as a teammate of Stuckey, who led Kentwood to the Washington State 4A Championship in the 2003-04 season. Stuckey went on to earn national Freshman of the Year honors at Eastern, as well as a pair of honorable mention All-America accolades, before becoming a first-round draft choice by the Detroit Pistons in last June's NBA Draft.
"Aaron is a converted basketball player who is becoming a really good football player," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "He has a lot of upside and still has room for improvement. He has a bright future ahead of him if he keeps working hard."
Boyce had long catches of 41, 37 (touchdown), 28 and 24 yards, and caught six passes for 116 yards in the third quarter alone against the Grizzlies. He only had one catch for seven yards in the first quarter. He played much of the game at an inside receiver position usually held by fellow sophomore Tony Davis, who missed the game with shoulder injury.
"He had a great day, especially considering he was playing a new position," said Wulff. "He did a great job adapting and caught everything that was thrown his way. It was a very solid performance."
Boyce was four catches away from the Big Sky single game record of 21 set by David Pandt of Montana State against Eastern Washington in 1986. The previous school record for catches was 13 set on three previous occasions -- 1968 by Bob Picard, 1976 by Tom Bassett and 1986 by Jon Vea.
His yardage mark ranks only behind the record of 264 set by Jason Anderson in 1994 against Montana when he had a 99-yard pass reception. Eastern lost that game to the Grizzlies, also in Missoula, by a 49-29 margin.
"I've never been around a receiving performance like that, let alone a game when a team has thrown it 59 times," added Wulff. "Hopefully we'll see that kind of production down the road as those players and our offense continues to develop."
Nichols and Boyce Produce Record-Breaking Game to Remember: A victory would have made it that much sweeter, but at least the sophomore passing duo of Matt Nichols-to-Aaron Boyce has a couple of school records to show for a disappointing 24-23 loss to Montana on Oct. 6. But best of all, the pair of sophomores will have two more cracks at the Grizzlies ahead of them in the next two seasons.
Nichols had a school-record 37 completions on 59 attempts for 451 yards -- all career highs in just the 15th start of his EWU career. His yardage total was the third-most in school history and just 35 yards from the school record of 486 set by Todd Bernett against Montana in 1994.
Sophomore receiver Aaron Boyce had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17. The record is 21 set by David Pandt of Montana State against Eastern Washington in 1986. The previous school record for catches was 13 set on three previous occasions.
Boyce finished with 232 receiving yards to rank second in school history behind the record of 264 set by Jason Anderson in 1994 against Montana. Eastern lost that game to the Grizzlies, also in Missoula, by a 49-29 margin.
Thanks to a defense that was dominant against the Grizzlies, Eastern had a huge, 565-289 advantage in total offense. Eastern had 26 more offensive plays than Montana and had a six-minute edge in time of possession. But Eastern couldn't establish a consistent running attack and that led to Nichols throwing the ball 59 times while the team rushed just 29 times. The Eagles were scoreless the first six times they had the ball, then scored on four-straight possessions to take a 20-14 lead. However, Eastern managed only a single field goal in its last six times with the ball and came up a single point short in its upset bid.
Only two other times has an Eastern quarterback attempted more passes -- Rick Worman versus Nevada (10/12/85) and Tommy Thompson against Puget Sound (11/16/68). The previous record for completions was by Josh Blankenship against Western Oregon (9/14/02). The only Eastern quarterbacks to throw for more yards were Bernett and the player Nichols replaced, Erik Meyer, who had 470 against Sacramento State (10/29/05).
Boyce had long catches of 41, 37 (touchdown), 28 and 24 yards, and caught six passes for 116 yards in the third quarter alone. He only had one catch for seven yards in the first quarter. Nichols had just 22 yards in the first quarter, but then had 185 in the second quarter, 163 in the third and 82 in the fourth.
Nichols' totals for passing yards and total offense (478) are both the top performances in the Football Championship Subdivision thus far this season. Boyce also has the top performances for catches and yards. Interestingly, No. 2 in passing yards is Portland State's Brian White (442) and second in receiving yards is PSU's Tremayne Kirkland (225 on 14 catches) with performances they had in a one-point, 44-43 loss to Northern Arizona on the same day as the EWU-Montana contest.
Wulff on Receiver Aaron Boyce and Passing Game Versus Montana: "We felt like we could throw the ball if we could protect the quarterback and if Matt figured out where he was hot and where he wasn't. Some of the routes were designed to go to Aaron. When it was there, Matt hit him. Matt is very comfortable with Aaron. When you do that there are going to be some statistical numbers out there, but I'm not a big fan of statistics. I'm a big fan of winning."
Boyce on His Big Day: "With the zone coverage Montana was playing, in film study we saw that we could take advantage of that. We just ran the routes we had practiced all week. Our coaches had a great game plan that put us in spots to make plays. I'm always thinking I can get open, but I wasn't paying much attention (to how many catches I had). I was just running what we practiced. It just happened to be my day today."
Nichols on Performance Against Montana: "I calmed myself down and played like it was practice. I didn't let any of the pressure of the crowd get to me. I just made plays when they were there. Our line protected me well all day and our receivers were getting open. I felt like I had it -- almost every pass I threw was on target."
Nichols on Scoring 20 Points in Four-Straight Possessions: "We felt like our passing game was going well. We felt like we could move down the field whenever we wanted. Momentum was just going our way."
A Taste of the Eagle-Grizzly Rivalry: In a series that has provided plenty of drama over the years -- including 2007 -- Montana now leads the all-time series 23-10-1. Eastern is 4-12-1 in Missoula, 5-10 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites. In six of the last 12 meetings between the two teams, both teams have entered the game nationally-ranked.
Eight recent games in the series that have been decided by margins of 10 points or less are the exclamation points in a rivalry that has seen the Grizzlies come out on top 23 times in 34 meetings. The winner has usually piled up points and yardage by the ton as evidenced by Eastern's 697 yards of total offense in 1986, 658 yards in 1997 in a 40-35 win, 564 in a 24-23 loss in 2007 and 541 yards by the Eagles in a 34-20 win in Missoula in 2005. In fact, in the last 22 meetings the winning team has averaged 33.9 points. In six of those 22 games the two teams have combined for at least 70 points, including a 41-31 Grizzly win at Spokane's Albi Stadium in 2000.
As for suspense, that one's covered too. In 2007, Eastern kicked a go-ahead field goal with 2:20 to play before top-ranked Montana kicked the game-winner with 26 seconds to play after converting a fourth-and-10 play. In 2004, Montana blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by the Eagles with 18 seconds remaining as the 23rd-ranked Eagles fell to the fifth-ranked Grizzlies 31-28 in a showdown for first place in front of a Woodward Field record crowd of 10,754. In 2002, Eastern beat the No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Grizzlies 30-21, ending Montana's record-tying winning streak in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision at 24 games. It was the first Big Sky Conference loss for UM head coach Joe Glenn, and snapped Montana's record winning streaks of 25 Big Sky games in a row and 13 league road games in a row. And in the process, the Eagle victory opened the door for Montana State and Idaho State to share the conference title with the Grizzlies.
Here are the six matchups in the last 12 seasons when both squads have entered the game nationally-ranked:
2005 - #12 Eastern Washington 34 at #2 Montana 20 (in Missoula, Mont.)
2004 - #5 Montana 31, #23 Eastern Washington 28 (in Cheney, Wash.)
2001 - #3 Montana 29, #15 Eastern Washington 26 (overtime in Missoula, Mont.)
2000 - #9 Montana 41, #18 Eastern Washington 31 (in Spokane, Wash.)
1997 - #17 Eastern Washington 36, #2 Montana 35 (in Missoula, Mont.)
1996 - #1 Montana 34, #20 Eastern Washington 30 (in Cheney, Wash.)
Brynsen Brown and Tony Davis Have Two of EWU's Longest Non-Scoring Plays: Sophomores Brynsen Brown and Tony Davis now own two of the longest non-scoring plays in school history after having long receptions in back-to-back games against Idaho State and Portland State.
Davis had a non-scoring 78-yard reception from quarterback Matt Nichols against ISU on Sept. 22 that ranked as the second-longest non-scoring pass play in school history. It ranks only behind the 82-yard connection from Erik Meyer to Raul Vijil in Eastern's 2004 playoff victory over No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois.
In Eastern's next game against PSU on Sept. 29, Brown had a non-scoring 85-yard reception that broke Vijil's record. Eastern's longest non-scoring rush in recorded school history was 80 yards, so Davis and Brown own two of the four longest non-scoring plays in recorded school history.
From 0-3 to 3-0: Eastern, 3-0 on the season, matched its win total from a year ago with a 34-7 victory over Idaho State on Sept. 22. Eastern had a 27-0 lead at halftime and had a 391-100 advantage in total offense when it took that advantage.
It was Eastern's first road trip of the season, and the Sept. 22 date equals EWU's latest road opener since 1987. Each of Paul Wulff's seven previous seasons as head coach had begun with games on the road.
Eastern hasn't started a season 3-0 since beginning the 1997 season with four-straight wins en route to a 12-2 finish. The Eagles were just 3-8 overall and 3-5 in league play last season after winning Big Sky Conference titles and earning NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff berths each of the previous two seasons.
Eastern started the 2006 season with losses to NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision opponents Oregon State and West Virginia, as well as a setback to NCAA Division II Central Washington.
Wulff on 3-0 Start Setting Up Team for a Successful Season: "It sure does. It gives us an opportunity to have success, it helps the program to grow, it helps recruiting and it helps the school. It's very challenging when you have to play a very difficult schedule early in the year. It feels like you are always trying to make it up the whole year. It's all about direction and what you are trying to accomplish with your program."
Happy 60th Birthday Coach Wulff!: Paul Wulff won't be 41 until Feb. 25, 2008, but that didn't stop his players from giving him a birthday wish on the plane flight home from EWU's game at Pocatello. The flight attendant wished Wulff a happy 60th birthday over the loudspeaker, which resulted in a roar of applause and laughter from the team. Upon arrival in Spokane, Wulff began an immediate investigation to identify and punish the culprit. Initial reports blamed the quarterback.
Brayton Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week: Junior Fritz Brayton was selected as the Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after his performance in Eastern's 34-7 victory over Idaho State.
Brayton punted six times for a 47.7 average, with a long punt of 53 yards and two downed inside the Idaho State 20-yard line. The average field position for ISU was their own 20-yard line. In the second half, he had punts that were downed at the ISU 8 and 9 yard lines.
Brayton is a transfer from Washington State University and 2004 graduate of Westview High School in Portland, Ore. He is taking the place this season of Ryan Donckers, who averaged 42.4 yards per punt as a senior to rank third in school history. His career average of 40.5 also ranks third.
Brayton's father, Fritz Sr., was a wide receiver at Washington State from 1971-73. The junior Brayton is the grandson of WSU baseball legend Bobo Brayton and his cousin Tyler Brayton plays in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders.
Jarrett Helps Lead Impressive Effort by Defense: Safety Bryan Jarrett, one of just four seniors on the starting defense, had seven tackles and a key first-half interception in Eastern's 34-7 road win at Idaho State.
His interception at mid-field and 36-yard return led to a field goal that gave Eastern a 3-0 lead. He also had a touchdown-saving tackle in the second half, and had two other tackles that led to an Idaho State punt (in the first half) or loss of the ball on downs (in the second half).
Eastern would go on to score 24 more points -- including 10 more points off turnovers -- to take a 27-0 lead at halftime. When Eastern took its 27-0 lead, the Eagles had a 291-100 advantage in total yards. Idaho State scored its first points with 9:09 left in the game on a 92-yard drive. Idaho State finished with 400 yards, but 296 came in the second half.
The Eagles forced five turnovers against ISU, including three in the first 18 minutes of the game.
Jarrett, a 2003 graduate of Puyallup, Wash., High School, hopes to put an injury-plagued 2006 season behind him. He started Eastern's first three games and last three games in 2006 at free safety, and finished the season with 48 tackles despite missing two games and five starts with an ankle injury. He had 16 tackles in back-to-back games late in the season versus Northern Arizona (10/28/06) and Weber State (11/4/06), finishing with a season-high nine stops against the Wildcats. As a junior, he earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. He started Eastern's last eight games at whip safety, taking over for injured starter Gregor Smith and then never relinquishing his position. Jarrett played the 2003 season at Western Washington University where he started four of the nine games he played.
First Big Sky Player of the Week Won by Nichols: One game doesn't make a season, but the sophomore football campaign for Eastern Washington University's Matt Nichols has gotten off to an impressive start after a not-so-impressive season as a freshman redshirt.
The quarterback from Cottonwood, Calif., equaled a 20-year school record with six touchdown passes to lead Eastern to an easy 52-13 non-conference football victory over Montana-Western in EWU's season-opener Aug. 31 at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
As a result, he was awarded with the first Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honor of the 2007 season. It was the first of what is hopefully many conference honors in the still young career of Nichols. He also earned team offensive player of the week accolades as well.
Nichols completed 20-of-26 passes for 229 yards against the Bulldogs as he tied the TD passes record originally set by Rob James in 1987 against Weber State. His passing efficiency rating of 227.06 was much better than the 109.0 rating he had in 2006 as a redshirt freshman.
"He did good things, he was very accurate and he ran the offense like we coached him to do," said EWU head coach Paul Wulff. "I think he's gained some confidence."
In his debut season, Nichols had just eight touchdowns the entire season and equaled a school-record 17 interceptions. The first start of his career came against nationally-ranked West Virginia on Sept. 9, 2007, when he completed 13-of-25 passes. His talent allowed him to start 10 games in 2006, but his inexperience and inconsistency caused him to be replaced in five of those outings.
Lower Division Opener Something New: For a change, Eastern got to see how it feels to open the season on the other end of the collegiate football food chain.
A 52-13 win over Montana-Western marked the first lower division opener for Eastern since 1997. It was also the first time Eastern opened the season at Woodward Field since 1997, when Eastern finished 12-2 and advanced to the "Final Four" of the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
In eight of nine seasons from 1997-2006, Eastern opened the season on the road against a Football Bowl Subdivision foe (formerly I-A). Just once in those nine seasons -- a 35-17 victory at Connecticut -- has Eastern opened the season with a victory.
Eastern Has Burning Desire to Improve: Eastern is coming off a 3-8 finish last year that included a 3-5 record in Big Sky Conference play after losing all three of its non-conference games. Eastern head coach Paul Wulff is expecting his team to be championship contender once again after sharing the Big Sky Conference title in both 2005 and 2006 and advancing to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs both seasons.
"I think there is a burning desire to get back to playing well and playing good football," he said. "That includes coaches and players. We have built enough expectations of success in our program that last year was not acceptable. We will prepare ourselves as well as we possibly can to come back this season and play better."
Wulff on Applying for Sixth Year for Gregor Smith: "We don't even have the results from his MRI yet to know exactly what the possibility is to get himself healthy again. We have to go back through and look at all the time he's missed -- counting this year. I don't know all the rules and details yet to see if he qualifies for a sixth year, but I would like to think he does and we will apply for it."
Eagles Picked to Finish Fifth in Big Sky: The Eastern football team has been picked to finish fifth in the 2007 Big Sky Conference football season as the preseason polls were released July 16 at the league's Summer Kickoff in Park City, Utah.
Eastern is coming off a 3-8 season in 2006 that included a 3-5 record in the Big Sky. Eastern finished in a tie for sixth in the 2006 league race after being picked to place second by the coaches and sixth by the media.
This season, Eastern returns 13 starters and a total of 46 letter winners. Picked to finish exactly in the middle of the nine-team league, Eastern was picked to finish behind Montana, Portland State, Montana State and Northern Arizona. The Eagles were picked ahead of Weber State, Sacramento State, Idaho State and Northern Colorado.
"That doesn't bother me at all, and I don't think it bothers anybody else on our team at all," said EWU senior safety Gregor Smith. "It's that record at the end of the season that shows how you do."
Smith, a 2003 graduate of Lakeside High School in Nine Mile Falls, Wash., was EWU's player representative at the media gathering and meetings in Park City.
Alfred, Hanni Honored on Preseason All-America Teams: Senior offensive guard Matt Alfred has been selected to a pair of preseason NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision All-America football teams. He was a member of the College Sporting News squad, and was a second team selection by The Sports Network. In addition, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Alfred was named to the preseason All-Big Sky team. Fellow offensive lineman Rocky Hanni was on the Sports Network's third team.
A 2003 graduate of Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School, Alfred was an All-American in 2005 and has earned three previous postseason All-BSC honors at EWU (second team in 2004 and 2006 and first team in 2005). He enters the 2007 season with 33-straight starts as an Eagle.